Love it or hate it – and I’m a fan, by the way - Christmas is a true national celebration, probably the one time of the year when pretty much everyone joins in, at least to some extent (I’m looking at you, Scrooge!). For Christians there is the obvious religious significance, and of course many of our modern traditions are derived from this - but there are many other traditions that we engage in that have other roots. The yule log, mistletoe, and even the Christmas tree have their origins in pre-Christian midwinter festivals, for example. Present-giving and Christmas cards only became popular in the Victorian era, in no small part due to the influence of Dickens’ story ‘A Christmas Carol’. Even turkey is a relatively recent addition to the list of Christmas standards! And Father Christmas? Well, the red-suited, white-bearded version we are so familiar with today started life in an advert for a well-known soft drink.
But for most people, the traditions that matter the most are the ones that are personal. Every family seems to do things differently, with their own twists on established traditions and in many cases, their own completely unique ideas! As a child, Christmas never really got going in our house until at least 15th December, when we were finally allowed to put up our Christmas tree. This seemed hugely unfair as everyone else had had their trees up for months, but looking back I think it was a good idea. The arrival of the tree was a special event and it was a sign that Christmas was almost here! On the day itself, my sister and I would wake obscenely early and were usually unceremoniously put back to bed by our groggy parents, whom we had woken with our shrieks of delight as we rummaged through the stockings that they had foolishly left in our bedrooms. This went on year after year, and I have no idea why they never realised that the stocking in the bedroom thing wasn’t a great idea if they wanted to get any sleep! Our main presents were always in the living room, but before we were allowed to enter, we had to turn around three times and make a wish. If we didn’t do this, our presents would vanish, we were told. Until I was a teenager, I assumed that this was what everyone did, but it seems that it was just us. Also, I now suspect that this was just parental whimsy and that our presents probably wouldn’t have vanished if we had failed to conduct our annual turning-around-and-wishing ritual. But just to be on the safe side, I make my children do it every year now – just in case! After the frenzy of opening presents, the rest of the day would be a blur of relatives, chocolate, the Wizard of Oz, Morcambe and Wise, more chocolate, turkey, stomach aches, and the inevitable James Bond film. Oh, and the Queen’s speech, definitely the dullest part of the entire day. That’s one tradition that we have not kept up in our house!